The term “myelodysplasia” is used to refer to two different medical issues. The first is a family of conditions known as myelodysplastic syndromes which are characterized by inadequate production of blood cells in the bone marrow. The second is spina bifida, a congenital anomaly in which the spine and spinal cord do not form correctly. When people talk about “myelodysplasia,” they are usually thinking of conditions which involve low blood cell production.
Myelodysplasia can set in at any age. In some cases it is linked with genetic disorders which impede blood cell productions, while in other cases it is associated with environmental exposures such as exposure to radiation. Patients may also develop this condition without any known cause. People who have been exposed to toxins and radiation are at increased risk of developing myelodysplasia among other health problems. Individuals with a history of such exposure should make sure that it is noted in their charts because this can have an impact on medical treatment.
Patients with myelodysplasia develop symptoms like fatigue, susceptibility to infections, anemia, and pallor. Over time, the condition can progress to acute myelogenous leukemia in some patients. There are a number of different myelodysplastic syndromes which are linked with different symptoms and can involve different approaches to treatment. Diagnosis requires a number of tests to rule out other conditions which cause similar conditions.
Curing myelodysplasia is not possible, but there are treatments available. Some patients benefit from bone marrow transfusions, in which healthy bone marrow is transplanted from a donor so that the patient's body can start to make enough blood cells. Others may take medications which are designed to encourage immature blood cells to mature so that they will have enough blood cells. Treating underlying genetic issues can also sometimes address myelodysplasia.
In the case of spina bifida, a neural tube defect involving the spine and spinal cord which forces part of the spinal cord to protrude through the spine, myelodysplasia is often diagnosed during prenatal screenings. The severity of this congenital anomaly can vary considerably, with some patients having relatively mild anomalies while others may have serious neurological abnormalities such as incompletely formed brains. Surgery can be performed after birth to correct the anomaly and sometimes surgery during pregnancy is also an option. Intrauterine surgery is a delicate procedure performed by an maternal-fetal medicine specialist. Studies have demonstrated that taking folic acid during pregnancy can radically reduce the risk of spina bifida.